Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween temporarily turns me into an evil Slut-Shamer, so I'm staying inside to protect the world from my bitchy negative vibes.

It's been a looong time since my last post, but the winds of change and blogging productivity are finally blowing back in my direction. (In other words, my book manuscript is SUBMITTED! Huzzah!) I chose the night of Halloween for my first new post, because Halloween is a holiday rife with gender stuff and body stuff.  I can't avoid it, and needed to write.

I am not the first person to have noticed with concern that costume stores are stocked with a fairly limited assortment of highly gendered (and often highly sexualized) costume options for boys, girls, men and women (I highly recommend this article published by Miss Representation for an insightful critique of Halloween costume culture). Because of this, Halloween has long been my least favorite holidays. (Admittedly, lingering food issues and the abundance of bite-sized candy may also play into my anxieties!)

Daria is hilarious but also kind of judgy.
I feel like a rigid and totally-not-fun sourpuss when I see so much eager self-objectification among my fellow ladies.  I am Halloween's version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Really, every year I should just dress up as  Daria, so I can blame my cynical eye rolling and huff-puffing as an effort to "stay in character."  Knowing this, and not wanting to ruin anybody else's fun night with my judginess, I typically lay low on October 31st.  (Caveat: I do enjoy costume parties hosted by my closest friends, but the last time I went to one there were 2 women dressed up as Daria, four as the modestly-clothed Golden Girls, and there was a Gloria Steinem greeting people with vintage feminist awesomeness. In other words, my friends aren't really mainstream Halloweeners....)

I hate feeling judgmental towards my fellow women. It goes against my feminist commitments to empathy, celebration of all women, and general disdain for ladies keeping other ladies down. Here's the worst part: feeling (and, even worse, acting) bitchy about women who choose to dress provocatively on Halloween makes me a Slut-Shamer.  (FYI, according to FinallyFeminist101.com, Slut-Shaming happens when a person "publicly or privately [insults] a woman because she expressed her sexuality in a way that does not conform with patriarchal expectations for women."Slut-shaming is REALLY BAD STUFF! It contributes to a sexual double-standard in which men are praised for their sexuality while women are shamed for it; it polices rather than celebrates women's bodies and sexualities; and it implicitly (and often explicitly) positions the slut-shamer as being somehow "better-than" the slut-shamed.

This is Slut-Shaming. By 12-year-olds. It's awful.  Really, read it. Don't do it.
My Halloween slut-shamery troubles me profoundly. On the one hand, I hate (hate! hate!) how our culture objectifies and hyper-sexualizes girls and women.  I think that sexual objectification is a direct cause of body shame and disordered eating, and it is painful for me to see what I assume to be women's self-objectification on Halloween.  Yet my assumption that women dressed provocatively must be self-objectifying - the idea that they have unknowingly or complacently fallen victim to our culture's sexism - is just that: an assumption. This assumption downplays women's agency. It forgets that women can - and should - find enjoyment and pleasure in their sexuality. It forgets that we are all in costume, every day, and that our various costumes represent only one aspect of our complex selves.  Most importantly, it ignores the possibility that Halloween might be the one day of the year when women imagine that they can dress with exaggerated provocativeness without being slut-shamed. 

For these things, I apologize, and welcome your own thoughts on the subject.  I am obviously still working through this, which is why I am spending this year's Halloween in a dark movie theater watching a documentary with my sister. 

QUESTIONS: 
Is Halloween empowering to you? 
Is it a creative outlet? 
Is it a cherished and nostalgic holiday? 
Does it make you cringe? 
Are there any other 1-day-a-year ashamed-to-be-slut-shamers out there? 

Finally, a more lighthearted question: What is your all-time favorite Halloween costume?
(Here's mine: I dressed up as a DINNER SALAD one year in elementary school. I designed and sewed my own costume and everything. It didn't exactly win any popularity contests, but I know my parents were proud!)

49 comments:

  1. I love Halloween!!!!! To me it is a celebration of Fall food and rain. I haven't dressed up since high school (10 years ago, yikes!), but I thoroughly enjoy carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seeds, making bourbon spiced cider and sipping tea in the rain, and seeing all the cute kids in costume. I'm actually in Austria right now where it is a religious holiday and I've been getting super sad seing all the delicious treats that have been going up on pinterest (homemade peanut butter cups and apple cider caramels, yum) and posts of my friend's kids in costume. My work served pumpkin risotto yesterday and blood soup (tomato and pumpkin and beet), but it didn't quite cut it.

    My all time favorite Halloween costume was a fairy princess when I was in elementary school. My mom used to make all off of my costumes. One year she got two different shades of pink satin and made a fully lined dress with gorgeous bell sleeves and empire waste. It came with a matching cone hat. It was totally perfect. I kept that dress for years and use for dress-up whenever I had the chance. Seeing your post made me want to email my mom so I could thank her for making it such a fun and festive holiday with homemade touches. My parents were very healthy eaters so it was never about the candy.

    As for whether Halloween is empowering... Since it isnt' about the costumes for me anymore, I don't really think about it either way. I think the slutty nurse or PhD costumes are totally ridiculous, but if people want to objectify themselves one day a year or 365, they are free to do so.

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  2. One more thing, this video, "Things You Can Be on Halloween Besides Naked!", http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sheqEN2LCfY&feature=share, is hilarious.

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    1. OMG, I DO LOVE that video. I've shown it to pretty much all of my coworkers, friends, and family. In fact, I almost posted the clip as my post today, but I started wondering if the "keep your tits in!" message was a little slut-shamey... Hence the post I wrote instead!

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  4. As a Christian woman, I find Halloween to be tricky waters. I LOVE dressing in a costume and eating lots of candy. I hate occult references and not being able to avoid the naked women on the street. I realized my double standard the other day when I was at a Halloween party and a (cute) guy was dressed as a cave man with not much on and I did not mind ONE BIT.

    I guess I gotta pray about it!!!

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    1. Ha! Yes we all have to think a bit about our reactions to this stuff...

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  5. I enjoy Halloween, I think for me it's more a love for the cooling weather, curling up with scary movies all October, and if I get invited to a party, possibly going.

    I do agree that costume producers could perhaps be a bit more creative with the costumes they make available, especially for women. That, or possibly my generation could do with learning how to sew and we could make our own costumes. But I would say the idea of wearing something overly sexualized is very much empowering to me, personally. And I'll tell you why. I am not the kind of person that regualy takes pictures in bra/panties, and in fact when I wear a swimsuit I make sure I'm always covered with a towel unless I'm in the water. I attended a private school growing up, and there was a pretty strict dress code. Now in the high school years, I was about 20 pounds heavier, and my breasts were much bigger as well. Now imagine trying to shop for clothes that conformed to the dress code. I had a horrible time of it. Often because the tops available in my age range with a nice v neck or a camisole with lace edging that would be fine on "skinny" girls would be deemed "inappropriate" on me. I ended up wearing what would be found in the stores as "womens business" lots of button downs. Button downs are fine, but imagine that you have to wear these clothes meant for women twice your age when you are 15/16/17, basically you are daily forced to feel ashamed for having breasts, that is hard on a self-esteem that is fragile enough on it's own at that age.

    I still suffer from "body shame" even though I left high school several years ago...I still wear cloths that are very modest on a daily basis so being free to wear a more revealing costume one day of the year and not having to feel ashamed is something I appreciate. I think the main thing is if a woman is wearing something sexy, she should do it because SHE wants to, not in an effort to garner male attention.

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    1. Hi Davida,
      I love your story! I just KNEW that there were a lot of women who like Halloween for this very reason. Glad it resonated. :)

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  6. Just wanna say - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your approach to thinking about all of these things. Nuanced, intelligent, provacative . . . I have printed some of your posts and taped them to my teen daughter's bathroom mirror. There is HOPE! Thank you.

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    1. Why thank you! Your comment just made my day. :)

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  7. Halloween is what you make it! I sat at home in footie pjs, bow in my hair, and pink painted cheeks dressed like a baby. Most of my school was partying in minimal clothing they call "costumes" while I was passing candy to trick-or-treaters at my door with my best friends. I agree that Halloween has become corrupted but I think its society that is corrupted and Halloween is an outlet to show it off. We need to learn to respect and love our bodies.

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    1. Dressed like a baby sounds like a GREAT costume. (Just not a sexy baby. that would be a new level of uh-oh!)

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  8. We don't really celebrate Halloween in Australia but I came across this site and thought it was great, I'm amazed at the costumes and apparent lack of options to for women to wear/buy in shops: http://fucknosexisthalloweencostumes.tumblr.com/

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  9. As a mother, I'm totally afraid and angry at society for the the ridiculous and revealing costumes that they sell to children. The amount of sexy costumes that come in a size 6x are ridiculous! Allowing children as young as 5 to wear midriff bearing tops and short skirts seems totally outrageous. However, it is the example we set for them. I haven't gone to a grown up party in a few years and I stay very G rated when with the kids but, I have to admit I am a slutty costume wearer when I do go to grown up Halloween parties.
    I'm an attractive woman but, I dress very conservatively in my day to day life. Halloween is a nice excuse to remind my husband and myself that I've still got the goods. Sometimes woman need the confidence boost that comes from the admiring eyes of strangers. Second looks in my mom jeans and ponytail are few and far between but, french maid costume and ooh la la, I'm a MILF! It's totally hypocritical I know but, that's how I feel.

    Oddly enough, my favorite all time costume was a scarecrow. It was awesome! I used a burlap bag to cover my hair and had straw coming out of my cut up flannel and jeans. It was so not sexy but, it was so awesome that it rocked.
    That could be another reason for all the sexy costumes, it takes two minutes to slap on a push up bra and sexy nurse dress but, hours to be a convincing scarecrow!

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    1. I love this. I agree that the creativity and work behind a successful costume are usually what makes them the most memorable, but everybody likes to be admired and feel sexy too!

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  10. I am a teacher and dress modestly when teaching, it wouldn't do to have a wardrobe malfunction in front of high school boys! I like Halloween because it is fun to be someone you aren't for a night. If I get to go to an adult party then I want to dress a little more slutty but my version and what the costume makers versions are completely different. My privates are all covered with room to spare. Give the guy a glimpse of what he would get but not everything is the general rule I follow.

    Even though I dress "sexy" I still slut-shame when I see women who are putting everything out there and are a walking wardrobe malfunction. And at the same time I feel sorry for them because I know they have no self-esteem and their past is usually haunted. Upon reflection, I know that this makes me a hypocrite and I am working on that in other parts of my life.

    As for this Halloween I watched TV. But I did dress up for teaching I wore my poodle skirt with a white t-shirt, cardigan and pearls. The kids get kick out of teachers dressing up.

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    1. Love hearing about your thoughts on this. Hypocrites unite! Time to challenge our thoughts, perhaps...

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  11. I love Halloween! It's my favorite holiday, and one my mom and I get really into together. She makes amazing costumes. This year I looked pretty but not overtly sexy dressed as a happy little tree (my fiance went as Bob Ross).

    My all-time favorite costume was my slutty -- yep, slutty! -- ipod costume that my mom made for me my senior year of college. The thing I hate about the "sexy" costumes that are in stores each year is that they are cheaply made and lack creativity...mostly they are just unimaginative and cliche. And I feel like that's what's holding women back on Halloween; these costumes say "just show up and show off your tits." But men (at least in my experience) are encouraged to make their own funny costumes to show off how clever they are, and these costumes are always conversation starters and are celebrated. The idea is "let's talk to the guy in the funny costume because he's clearly funny" but it's "let's tal to the girl in the sexy cop costume because she's clearly sexy."

    So my sexy ipod costume? I loved it because it was totally me, unexpected ("How do you make an ipod sexy?" everyone asked me before), funny, and handmade with love and tons of attention to detail. It brought me attention because it was funny. And did I feel awesome wearing it? Yup, I did. I felt SO sexy. But I also felt smart and funny and creative (and proud of my mom). And since I think a woman can be all of those things at once, I had no problem with sexy being one element of the costume.

    In "How to Be a Woman," Caitlin Moran talks about the difference between stripping and burlesque and I see Halloween as having the option to do either. Most store-bought costumes are literally coming from stripper-apparel websites, but I see a well-made sexy costume with brains and a sense of humor like burlesque...and it makes you feel like the woman is in on the joke and in control (because she is).

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    1. you are giving me one more reason to read Caitlin Moran's book ASAP. It's been on my list for far too long!

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  12. These Mini Cocktail Dresses are so sexy and wonderful. Any woman would adore wearing them and partying with them. They are so cute and colorful. The perfect dress to have fun in.

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